SPRINGFIELD -- The issue of gun permits surfaced briefly in the Illinois governor's race, when a candidate claimed that the Illinois State Police had a backlog of 75,000 gun-owner's ID applications under Gov. Pat Quinn, forcing hunters to miss entire hunting seasons.
The real number isn't that high -- just 49,000, according to state police. But those numbers belie a bigger headache awaiting the state's bureaucracy now that lawmakers have set in motion a process to facilitate the carrying of concealed weapons in public, as mandated by a federal court order.
Whereas a few years ago, 1.2 million Illinoisans held Firearm Owners Identification cards, the number has jumped to 1.6 million, state police spokeswoman Monique Bond said. Soon after the court decreed in December that Illinois couldn't ban public carry anymore, demand for FOID cards jumped precipitously. In January alone, Bond reported, there were 61,000 FOID applications, nearly double the 31,000 in January 2012.
Once the state's new concealed-carry law is fully in place, state police officials expect 400,000 applications in the first year for the $150 "carry" permits, a number on top of the 49,000 waiting for a $10 FOID which gives them permission to own a gun -- permission that's unique among states.
Guns rights advocates say the numbers prove that the demand is high and broad-based across the nation.
"People say it's the same `gun guys' buying more guns," said Todd Vandermyde, the National Rifle Association's lobbyist in Illinois. "FOID proves that it's just the opposite."
How well the state deals with the demand for firearms under the new concealed-carry law depends on a complicated process approved by lawmakers and now being put into place.
Under the new law, those wanting to tote a gun still need the traditional Firearm Owners Identification card -- a permit unique among states which allows possession of guns in the home or outside only for hunting, sports shooting or other special purposes. Then, to get a carry permit, 16 hours of training is necessary.
Before anyone can carry a gun, the state police must write rules governing the practice, which must be approved by a bipartisan group of lawmakers. But the first of those regulations -- those governing the qualifying of instructors to teach gun-carry rules -- were written on an "emergency" basis and don't need the approval of the group, called the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules.
Already, the regulations have their critics. Vandermyde says the law's intention was to allow local police departments to provide fingerprinting for instructors, but the rules require already-approved state fingerprint vendors, driving up the cost. He says all curriculums must be taught by approved instructors, leaving no room for lawyers or police officers to provide specifics on the legal ramifications of using force, for example.
Another concern is a rule requiring instructors to vouch for a pupil's prior training even if they have no previous knowledge of it. For example, a military veteran needs only eight hours of training to get a carry license, and Vandermyde said it appears the instructor must vouch for that military service.
"The (state police) lawyers don't want to be responsible for putting guns in the hands of civilians, and they're doing everything they can to limit liability," Vandermyde said.
Bond said complete instructions for what's required of the training will be available Monday. They could be as specific as indicating how many hours are necessary in various areas, from shooting proficiency to cleaning a gun.
Bond believes they will answer many of the NRA's concerns.
"The law is very clear and we are operating within the confines of the law," she said.
Vandermyde believes the state will need 1,200 instructors to carry out the training. As of Sunday, the state police had approved 757 instructors. Bond said there could be 1,000 within a few days.
Those trainers who have been approved are already taking applications for classes.
Jay Johnson of Belleville was qualified last week as an instructor. The day his name appeared on a state police website, he had more than two dozen emails requesting training.
He will provide it through Metro Shooting Supply, which has an office in Belleville. He plans to begin signing up applicants for basic pistol-proficiency training as the first eight-hour portion of what's necessary to get a carry permit.
"It's a course specific to concealed carry -- how to handle a firearm in a stressful situation and whether to utilize that firearm or not," Johnson said. "Getting away from doing so (using it) is the best option."
State police officials will submit their overall concealed carry program, along with the emergency rules, to the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules at a Dec. 17 meeting in Chicago, JCAR executive director Vicki Thomas.
State police estimate a startup cost for administering the new law at $25.7 million or more. Bond said the agency has advertised 65 full-time positions to handle the new program and anticipates advertising for as many as 30 more.
House Republicans have received "an earful from constituents" about the rules and have set up a place on their webpage for comment, spokeswoman Vicki Crawford said.
"We want full public input into the process to help avoid problems down the line with the new law," Crawford said.